Apple acquires indoor GPS company WiFiSLAM for $20 million

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Big news out of Cupertino this evening. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Apple has acquired indoor mobile location positioning firm WiFiSLAM, in a deal worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 million.

Apple has confirmed the acquisition of the company, which possesses proprietary technology that allows mobile apps to detect a smartphone user’s location inside of buildings using preexisting ambient Wi-Fi signals…

The Wall Street Journal‘s Jessica Lessin reports:

“Apple has acquired indoor-GPS company WifiSLAM, a sign that the war over indoor mobile location services is heating up. Apple paid around $20 million for the Silicon Valley-based company, according to a person familiar with the matter who said the deal closed recently.

The two-year-old startup has developed ways for mobile apps to detect a phone user’s location in a building using Wi-Fi signals. It has been offering the technology to application developers for indoor mapping and new types of retail and social networking apps.”

WiFiSLAM has just a handful of employees, made up of a mix of former Google software engineers and Stanford graduates. It’s raised an unknown amount of money from angel investors, including Google’s Don Dodge.

Here’s co-founder Joseph Huang speaking about WiFiSLAM at GeoMeetup late last year.

Apple’s acquisition of the indoor positioning firm makes sense, considering that it’s trying to compete with Google in the mapping space. Google Maps currently supports indoor maps for a number of popular venues.

A company spokesman confirmed the buyout with The Journal, saying that Apple “buys smaller technology companies from time to time,” but generally doesn’t discuss its plans. And he declined to comment any further.

He’s right though, Apple has acquired a number of smaller companies in the last few years—particularly those with mapping technologies. In 2009 they acquired Placebase, and later added Poly9 and C3 Technologies.

Apple released its in-house Maps app last fall alongside iOS 6. It initially received a copious amount of criticism over the service due to data inaccuracies, but it has made a number of improvements within the last 6 months.